Two weeks ago I wrote an article titled Avalon Is FUN, where I shared my first impressions of Avalon Poetry II. I emphasize how much fun I had on that journey so many times during the article that I should have certainly gotten my point across by now, but that didn’t stop me from typing ”The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had On A River Cruise” as soon as I began to think of ideas for my second story covering my trip. Then I had to think, what was the root of all the fun? In part, a great crew and a fun group of guests, but a great journey needs a great itinerary.
The Rhone was a lovely backdrop for my October travels through France. There were gorgeous sunsets, beautiful flowers and trees, historic towns and villages, and so much more. While I would usually find myself sitting on the deck taking in the views of the river, I found myself congregating with fellow passengers and attending onboard events – like a lemon meringue pie cooking demonstration from Guillaume, playing board games in the club lounge and delighting in daily tea time with the best assortment of pastries and cakes.
Don’t worry I still found my way outside, especially on the days that we barbecued on deck. Who isn’t in a good mood with a burger in one hand and a glass of rosé in the other?
There were plenty of enrichment options on board, but the most choice came where I wasn’t expecting it. It was day four of my journey when I overheard a fellow guest say the unthinkable, “I just wish there weren’t so many excursions every day. It makes it so hard to choose what I want to do.” Don’t get me wrong, it was hard to choose which excursions to take and which I would have to miss out on (or save for next time – you will want more, trust me), but the sheer amount of choices in excursions is what makes Avalon stand out from the pack.
Avalon’s regular voyages provide variety in excursions through the company’s Avalon Choice program, allowing guests to choose between Classic, Active and Discovery excursions throughout the sailing. However, I was on an Active + Discovery cruise, which provided a more diverse menu of excursions than Avalon’s basic itineraries.
In Lyon, I took a cooking class where we learned to make traditional French dishes like Cevelle de canut (silk weaver’s brains!). We were included in the lesson, preparing the dishes as a group and each prepping different ingredients.
In Vivers, I spelunked (is that a word?) and did a wine tasting in a cave, explained by our guide to be an ideal place for a wine tasting because of the isolation of senses. There is nothing to see, smell or hear.
My favorite excursion was a rail-bike tour outside of Tournon. We rode a train to the top of railway and soared through the mountains on a rail-bike.
As a group we visited oyster and essential oil farms, locks and power plants, painting workshops, bullfighting arenas and olive groves. We even wandered through the streets of Vivers after dark and took a ghost tour of the town.
These itineraries draw out groups of all ages. We saw a family with teenagers along side couples who were celebrating 30-, 40-, and 50-year anniversaries.
On the first day of the sailing, 20-year-old Nolan opted to do a cooking class in Lyon while the rest of his family went off to do other things. Why the cooking class? Nolan is a line-cook at a restaurant in his hometown. Though he was in school for music, cooking became his calling. A calling that he got to explore and build upon in none other than the culinary capital of the world – France. Don’t worry, we still got to hear him play some music too.
This was, by far, the most immersed I have ever been in a culture on a river cruise, and that is what Avalon intends it to be. The difference in excursion styles create an understanding of culture in a way that isn’t always absorbed by walking and listening to a guide.
Of course, a great sailing can’t happen without a great crew. Next week, I will talk more about all those fabulous people. For now, I’m getting a hankering to get active and do some discovering of my own backyard – the Blue Ridge Mountains.